LAST weekend we did that most hated of domestic chores — we shifted house.

We did it ourselves with a couple of mates. Kiwi do-it-yourselfers with a furniture float and a ute, we muscle-powered it with all the frustrations and the shock and horror that goes with realising that the bigger the house the more you expand to fill the space.

In the five years we had been in a house with twice as much room as we needed, we had purchased and purloined to fill every nook and cranny.

It's hard to throw away books — even though we know that when we research before writing something, we do so online and never go seeking out more than the superficial in real books.

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You can't Google search the hard-bound but I'm addicted to buying books on interesting stuff that "I will read one day in retirement ..." Whenever that is.

Then there are books I have been given to read and would never want to admit it had been chucked.

There is the good fiction I have read and will only read once; duplicate and triplicate books on gardening, cooking, exercise and weight loss that tell you emphatically — according to the latest fad — how to do all the things you already know.

Tools which you inherited from grandfathers that nobody uses any more or even knows their use. But there is an historical connection which is hard to break without inviting the wrath of the ghosts of forebears.

Kids' stuff is the real tear-jerker — the Barbie van, the soft toys, the school books, and myriad of pictures painted in kindergarten. The plaster of Paris models and masks will probably never be played with again, but it seems like sacrilege to give it the biff.
I found 10 suits. Who the hell needs 10 suits?

In fact, the move to a smaller house and having to seriously question what to keep and what to get rid of, has underlined how, without noticing, I have accumulated so much stuff that is unnecessary.

I would not have previously thought that ownership of all this stuff was all that extravagant, but when looked at in comparison to those in different straits, it is way over the top.

There are kids my kids' age who never had dolls and teddy bears, let alone Barbie houses and vans — or Transformers, their own CD players, tape-decks, mobile phones and cameras. All of them now obsolete, or just out of fashion.

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That gives me pause for thought about a two-tiered society of those who have and those who have not. An analogy is how we do the business of government service.

We find the remnants of old thinking in education, health, justice, police and Parliament. We know these processes, mantras, practices and principles no longer hold with current thinking, but it is too hard to chuck them out.

If they do get discarded, just like the stuff we unload from the trailer at the transfer station, somehow they find their way back when the nobody is looking.

In comparison, it is easier to give the books, toys and clothes to charity, and the clutter nobody wants to the tip than it is to discard the no-longer-needed-or-appropriate hallmarks of a 30-year-old education system, a broken justice system or an approach to law enforcement that looks more 1970s than 21st century.

To dump old ideas in lieu of current, researched, evidence-based policy makes some think we are disrespecting those who did it that way for decades. To challenge old ways of teaching, policing, nursing or whatever apparently throws into doubt everything those practitioners ever stood for.

Every now and then society must clean out the social garage and take some old ideas to the tip. As the saying goes: "The definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result."

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government.